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Anil Kumar Reddy asked: What is Gujral Doctrine?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: I. K. Gujral served as India's Minister of External Affairs in the cabinets of V.P. Singh (5 December 1989-10 December 1990) and H. D. Devegowda (1 June 1996-21 April 1997. He went on to become Prime Minister in April 1997 and retained the foreign ministry (21 April 1997-18 March 1998).

    During his tenure as foreign minister, he adopted accommodative policy vis-à-vis India’s neighbours. Gujral’s policy of non-reciprocal accommodation led to the signing of a 30 year treaty between India and Bangladesh on December 12, 1996. In fact, the 1977 treaty on water sharing between India and Bangladesh (after extensions in 1982 and 1985) had lapsed in 1988 and negotiations could not succeed because of inflexibility on both sides. He even ensured Bhutanese consent for digging of a canal from a Bhutanese river to augment the flow of water to Ganga and showed his willingness to revise the controversial Mahakali treaty with Nepal which was received well in Nepal.

    In his famous Chatham House speech in London in September 1996, Gujral outlined his approach towards the neighbours and stated:

    "The United Front Government’s neighbourhood policy now stands on five basic principles: First, with the neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, India does not ask for reciprocity but gives all that it can in good faith and trust. Secondly, no South Asian country will allow its territory to be used against the interest of another country of the region. Thirdly, none will interfere in the internal affairs of another. Fourthly, all South Asian countries must respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. And finally, they will settle all their disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations. These five principles, scrupulously observed, will, I am sure, recast South Asia’s regional relationship, including the tormented relationship between India and Pakistan, in a friendly, cooperative mould."

    Gujral reiterated these five principles later in another speech at Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS), Colombo in January 1997. Such policy of accommodation was called ‘Gujral doctrine’ by noted Indian journalist Bhabani Sen Gupta in his article, “India in the Twenty First Century”, [International Affairs, Vol. 73, Issue 2, 1997, pp. 308-309].
    Interestingly, Pakistan did not feature in the list of countries Gujral identified in his speech for non-reciprocal treatment. A perceptive analyst of south Asian politics, A. G. Noorani, held such measures as ‘cosmetic’ and ‘deceptive’ and argued that Gujral doctrine excluded Pakistan and was thus not a wholehearted effort to generate trust with all the neighbours. Some other analysts held that Gujral was unable to bring about any change primarily because of his inability to “convert the foreign policy bureaucracy” firmly wedded to the principles of security, national interests and major power status at the global level, “to the basic art of friendliness”. It was also alleged that the foreign office was more comfortable with the language of “hegemonic power” than “Gujral’s language of friendship and détente”.

    Interestingly, however, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government (1998-2004) led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and and the United Progressive Alliance government (2004 - till date) led by Manmohan Singh have continued with Gujral’s foreign policy which laid emphasis on the need to have “a peaceful, stable and constructive environment in India’s neighbourhood” which is being regarded as “vital for the goals of accelerated development for India and the region”.